EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso broke ground Thursday on the Alameda Brio, the second of four planned rapid transit bus routes in the city.
The 14.5 mile Alameda express route will run from the Downtown Sun Metro Transfer Station to the Mission Valley Transfer Station in Ysleta, with stops at nearly 30 new stations in between.
Work on the $38 million dollar plus project is expected to begin by January, with service starting by early to mid-2018, a little over a year to a year and a half from now.
Mayor Oscar Leeser and several city representatives were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony, which started at Jefferson High School, across from University Medical Center.
A 20-minute bus ride along Alameda followed to the Mission Valley Station, where the new route will eventually culminate.
Much like the Mesa Brio, it will feature wi-fi, fewer stops and branded and landscaped stations along the way. Brio buses have the ability to shorten red lights and lengthen green lights at intersections in order to reduce the number of times the bus has to stop.
City Rep. Emma Acosta, who said she has been working the project for the past eight years, was perhaps most excited about the groundbreaking. The Dyer Brio route is expected to break ground in a couple of months and Montana will follow in 2018, but Acosta pointed out the Alameda Brio will likely get the most use of all of them.
"We have the highest ridership on Alameda," Acosta said. "We have 450,000 people that ride buses on Alameda every month, and so that's a lot of people. If we can get those individuals to work faster, get them to school faster, get them to the Medical Center of the Americas faster, then we've done our job."
Acosta said it's about time and long overdue for Lower Valley residents. The Alameda Brio, which she argued should have been built first, is a year-and-a half to two years behind schedule, according to the City's original target completion date of June of 2016.
"A little bit later than what we anticipated," Acosta said. "We never anticipated having so much difficulty in acquiring the right of way. When talking about 38 properties, that's a lot. People along the Alameda corridor kept asking me, 'You told us it was going to happen, you told us.' And I always told them, 'Government doesn't work very fast, but we work and so it's here now.'"
In addition to the acquisition of properties, Leeser said timing was important when it comes to quality of life bonds.
"Did we want to start earlier? We always want to start all our projects as soon as possible," Leeser said. "But then again, we want to make sure everybody is available to be able to start and finish in a timely manner. Whether it was passed by prior council or this council, we have to be really diligent when we go out and roll out the money and be able to put it within the budget. That was one of the things we talked about. When we bring the budget in, how do we incorporate it into this year's budget, make sure its the least impactful to the taxpayer. So that was really important."
Sun Metro Director Jay Banasiak had this to say about the delay: "When you start doing those projects, you have to make sure it fits in your budgeting and debt model."
He also pointed to property acquisition as an issue. "It was a little more challenging than the Mesa corridor," Banasiak said. "Mesa had a lot more right away."
Banasiak called Alameda, with the highest ridership, a key step to connecting what will eventually be four Brio routes.
"I think when we get all four Brios going," Banasiak said, "then you'll be able to see something where people can transfer to another Brio and just keep moving fast.
The the Mesa Brio corridor is already operating.Brio Station amenities will feature:
- Bus shelters (providing wind and sun protection)
- Installation of a raised platform (providing near-level boarding)
- Pre-paid automatic ticket vending
- Benches, leaning rails, bike racks and trash cans
- Sidewalk improvements
- Landscaping and pedestrian lighting